Literary festivals are one of Britain's growth industries. Jeremy, with a bit of help from the Almighty, is good at themby Jeremy Clarke / December 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
One day last summer I did nothing except sit in the garden and read a book called The Faces of Hemingway by Denis Brian. Brian had the simple idea of interviewing everyone still alive who had known Hemingway and then transcribing the result. It sounds boring, but I was riveted by it.
The great question which seemed to exercise Papa’s friends and relations was: at what point did he begin to lose his marbles? Some of those interviewed said that he never really got over being blown up by a trench mortar during the first world war, and that his story, A Way You’ll Never Be, pointed to a nervous collapse as early as 1918 (aged 19).
Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s third wife, thought that booze had sent him off his trolley by 1944. Others said he wasn’t the same bloke after 1953, when he had to head-butt his way out of a crashed aircraft while suffering terribly from amoebic dysentery and then fell into an unrelated fire the following day.
The day after I read Faces of Hemingway, I went on a “writers’ picnic”-one of the events at the annual literary festival held in the manicured grounds of Dartington Hall. Ten would-be writers-eight women and two men-assembled beside the medieval gatehouse; we then followed our lady tutor down the hill to a meadow beside the river Dart, where we made little nests among the tall, whispering grasses.
Our first assignment was to write about anything we liked for about ten minutes, ignoring our internal censors as far as possible. When the time was up, our tutor called us into a circle and made us read out to the rest of the group what we had written. As we listened, we lolled in the grass sipping elderflower champagne from paper cups and nibbling on salmon sandwiches.
Jenny volunteered to read hers out first. Jenny and I had chatted on the way down the hill. She was a former social worker: middle-aged, fattish, divorced; Rod Stewart hair style, canvas trousers, parrot earrings; and a brother called Julian who writes for the Guardian.
She had written about the meditation class she had attended earlier in the day. Meditating on her left foot for about 15 minutes, Jenny described how the word “meadow” had popped into her mind. Wasn’t it a spooky coincidence, she said, that here she was, just three hours later,…